KCBD Investigates Discounting Danger: Lubbock man navigates life as a quadriplegic following game room shooting
LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - A bullet nearly took his life and for months, it took his voice. Now, Florencio Elias Rivera is sharing his story of survival after a shooting rampage that left one dead and three injured.
Rivera said he and his mother enjoy gambling, and on Monday, March 13, 2023, she suggested they try their luck at a game room at 92nd and Avenue P.
“She didn’t have to twist my arm,” Rivera said.
Rivera said he had been to the Rich Land Entertainment game room a number of times.
“I knew the staff members there pretty well,” Rivera said.
On that Monday, Rivera said he did well, and called for an employee, Chris Rios, to redeem his winnings.
“He gave me the thumbs and said he would be there in just a second,” Rivera said.
But Rios never made it back to Rivera.
“The door opened, and I heard a loud pop,” Rivera said.
Rivera said he saw Rios on the ground.
“I was trying to run to my mother and I stood up and everything locked up and I hit the floor,” Rivera said.
Rivera said he heard his mother yelling for him, but when he tried to answer, his voice was only a whisper.
His mother was in pain, too.
“She shattered her kneecap falling so she crawled over to where I was and I said, ‘I am not okay, I got shot,’” Rivera said.
Rivera said his mother screamed for help.
“At this time the game room owner went in there and told us to get out,” Rivera said. “They locked the doors. My mom was screaming, ‘How are the paramedics going to get inside?’ They left and everybody took off.”
Rivera said he remembers sheriff’s deputies running in and the ambulance ride to the hospital where he learned the bullet was in his neck.
“I went into surgery, and they found out they couldn’t remove the bullet without causing more damage,” Rivera said.
Rivera said they were not sure he would survive.
“I had tubes coming out of my nose. I got a trach put in, a feeding tube put in, and one of those peg lines so I could get medication in my body. It has been quite a challenge,” Rivera said.
Rivera beat the odds and graduated to Trustpoint Rehabilitation Hospital of Lubbock where he is learning to navigate life as a quadriplegic.
“Being in rehab we see all of the terrible things that happen to people. He’s got the worst thing that ever happens to people,” said Medical Director Dr. Roger Wolcott.
Wolcott said Rivera’s spinal cord injuries come with secondary complications that can be deadly.
“His autonomic nervous system that can control his blood pressure can go crazy and can clamp down all of his arteries and make his blood pressure go 300 over whatever and point him in jeopardy for a stroke,” Wolcott said.
Rivera has been dealt a bad hand before. In 2017, he passed out while driving. Doctors discovered he had a spinal infection.
“They gave me a 50/50 shot of walking again and a 50/50 shot of making it through the surgery,” Rivera said.
Rivera said his recovery surprised his doctor.
“I walked into his office,” Rivera said. “He said, ‘I didn’t think you were going to be walking again.”
Years later, Rivera continues to amaze doctors with his determination and optimism.
“I have never seen anybody with his kind of injury who has gotten so excited by the gains he has had already because he knows it is going to make a difference,” Wolcott said.
Gains like advancing from a sip-and-puff wheelchair to a wheelchair controlled by a joystick.
Rivera’s parents have not missed a moment because they haven’t left his side since March 13.
“My cup overfloweth. My parents are a true blessing,” Rivera said.
Rivera recently learned more about the shooting and the arrest that followed. He said the suspect, 49-year-old Jamie Lee Pruett, is a stranger.
“If you could say anything to the person who pulled the trigger that day. What would you say?” we asked.
“Nothing that I could say on camera,” River said.
Rivera said whenever anger starts to rise, he reminds himself, “We can’t get all the blessings with all of that hate and anger. The Lord is good. My blessings are coming.”
And while the shooter may have changed his life, Rivera is thankful he still has it.
“You can’t break this smile on my face even after everything that has happened. Everybody has a sad story, but you can’t fake this smile. I am happy to be here,” Rivera said.
It’s a smile that grows anytime his grandchildren are in the room.
“There’s a lot of joy there, a lot of fight, to still be here to be a part of their lives,” Rivera said.
Rivera will move in with his parents whose home will need renovations to accommodate all of the medical equipment he requires. His family will also need a wheelchair-accessible vehicle.
Rivera’s father had planned to retire, but that has now been delayed so they can work to pay for everything insurance will not cover.
The family also has an account at Lubbock National Bank. You can visit any location to make a donation. Just tell them it is a donation to benefit Florencio Rivera.
Check out more from our Discounting Danger series at KCBD Investigates.
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